Sat, Nov 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Dutch mull anti-terror measures

CULTURE CLASH Legislators want the government to take stronger steps to track Islamic fundamentalists in the wake of the murder of a controversial filmmaker


The parliament asked the government yesterday to draft legislation compelling Dutch mosques to employ only imams who have studied Islamic religion in the Netherlands.

The proposal, supported by both government and opposition benches, came at the end of an 11-hour debate in which Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's government was accused of underestimating Islamic terrorism and failing to protect filmmaker Theo van Gogh, killed by a suspected Muslim radical on Nov. 2.

In an sometimes testy debate on Van Gogh's slaying, lawmakers pushed the government to shut down hate-mongering Web sites and broadcasters and asked that foreign imams who come to preach at any of the 500 or so mosques in the Netherlands, are monitored better.

A vote on the proposal for Dutch-educated imams was delayed. Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said it may be discriminatory unless that rule is applied to all religions. If passed, it would come into force in 2008.

The government narrowly escaped a confidence motion based on its anti-terrorism record that has generated much criticism, also from its own benches.

Jozias van Aartsen, leader of Balkenende's Liberal allies, said the government had been "lax" and gave "fuzzy explanations" why the man charged with Van Gogh's murder was not tracked more closely though he consorted with hard-core Islamists on a government watch list.

"Not all Muslims are terrorists," he said, "but there are a large number of terrorists in this world that feel attached to an identity as Muslim. They want to destroy us."

The Nov. 2 killing of Van Gogh triggered a cycle of retaliatory attacks on Islamic buildings and Christian churches that shocked this traditionally peaceful and tolerant nation.

"When it comes to preparing a terrorist attack, it's better to have 10 possibly innocent people temporarily in jail than one with a bomb on the street," said Maxime Verhagen, the floor leader of Balkenende's own Christian Democrats.

Interior Minister Johan Remkes said the Dutch intelligence service tracks about 150 radical Muslims who are considered dangerous, but lacks the resources to monitor them constantly.

"It is an illusion to think you can have complete operational control over that group 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Remkes said.

Remkes said the man suspected of murdering Van Gogh, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, was a peripheral figure in an Islamic terrorist network in Amsterdam and wasn't on the list of radicals, Remkes said.

"It is a disgrace that we know potential terrorists are running free in this country," said Geert Wilders, a right-wing lawmaker who demanded that all the suspected radical Muslims on the govern-ment's watch list be arrested.

A harsh critic of Islamic fundamentalism, Wilders has gone into hiding since Van Gogh's murder, except during the parliamentary debates, when he is escorted by bodyguards.

The government announced new steps to make it easier to infil-trate terrorist networks. If passed, investigators will not have to prove any "reasonable" suspicion of terrorist activities to conduct searches and detain people -- "indications" will suffice.

It will also be easier to access bank accounts of suspects and the right for police to make preventive searches of vehicles near sites such as sports arenas, airports, industrial parks and rail stations.

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